Is anything more exciting to a writer than a new notebook and pen? Or to a child-artist than a fresh box of crayons? The other day while packing, I came across the green-and-yellow tin of 64 Crayola colors. One of my first acquisitions (as a collector not a kid Picasso), today it holds my hot-glue gun and clear glue sticks under its battered lid. But it never fails to tickle me again with the love of color.
So we finally moved on New Year’s Eve! I’ve shocked my husband with my color choices: The floors are pale stone gray, and everything else is snow white. I’ve always loved lemon yellow on the walls and filled in the rest with hues of blue, but not this time. Except for the royal blue roof, I’m now surrounded by a pristine canvas on which to brush any color or combination palette I fancy at the moment.
My love of color began with that basic box of eight crayons in kindergarten and expanded to the deluxe box of 64—with the built-in sharpener!—in third grade. First issued in 1958, that big one crowned the company’s line in those days, though it’s nothing compared to the sumptuous sets (up to 200) available today.
“Colors speak louder than words.” –Anonymous
However, in my childhood, I learned for the first time that the world of color encompassed more than the primary red, yellow, and blue. And that colors bore wonderful names like brick, flesh, aquamarine, mahogany, maroon, and maize. Suddenly a love of color words filled my brain and books too.
Noticeably absent among Crayola’s 64 are what I call the jewel tones: the ruby, sapphire, emerald, and so on that I used to decorate my home in Santiago. Though the box did feature metallics such silver and gold, many of the original 64 seemed to find inspiration from flower gardens. Catch the bouquet of violets. Rose, carnation, cornflower, lavender, and goldenrod in country woods of forest green, pine green, spring green. Even thistle.
Or discover the orchards of mulberry, apricot, and plum. Witness salmon swimming in the neat rows. With the new 64 and other modern selections, Crayola has added blueberry, lime, cerise, banana, bluebell, fuchsia, wisteria, and shamrock. They waded into the vegetable patches, too, with asparagus, mustard, almond, peach, peppermint, and Granny Smith apple.
What about Scarlet Pimpernel? Canary, axle grease, macaroni-and-cheese? Talk about imaginative and original!
“The purest and most thoughtful minds are those which love color the most.” –John Ruskin
Not all colors are created equal, though. To tell the truth, despite my general love of color, I’m not overly fond of the veggie greens—like pea, olive, or avocado. While I enjoy eating them, they don’t exactly offer a feast for the eyes. Or think of celadon. The name sounds exotic, until you realize it’s a drab sort of celery! I prefer sage or seafoam.
I don’t much care for orange shades either—no offense, I hope, if you do… The rental home we just left was painted tangerine outside and burnt sienna inside. Never my choice. Somebody was going for terracotta, perhaps, but it looked to me like watered-down PEI mud. Or Crayola’s bittersweet. I guess that’s why I wanted to start in the next place with a clear slate.
But I never met a blue I didn’t like. According to designers and color theorists, it’s the most creative and universally loved color.
International Love Story
I didn’t know until the other day that some people collect crayon colors the way I collect tins. Or that color names change from time to time because of preference, popularity, and even political correctness. For example, the Indian red of 1958 became chestnut and then just India red. In ancient times, lead was considered white, not gray. Who knows why torch red turned into scarlet?
Many color names also alter from place to place to reflect the local cultural concepts: English vermilion, Caribbean green, French blue with its hint of lavender, China blue reflecting the shades of Chinese pottery and porcelain.
Crayola even produces different colors for different contexts. In some Spanish-speaking countries, you may find grass green and apple red, moss and mandarin, carrot and pineapple. Though not crayon names, unique Chilean colors might be Pacific blue, lapis lazuli, and maqui-berry. Carabinero green (olive), cactus, and copper. Cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon, grape.
But blue is the world’s favorite color. According to Kassia St. Clair’s The Secret Lives of Color, 90% of people in 10 countries on 4 continents prefer blue—by a significant margin. (Natural greens figure as the #2 choice.)
Color Me Sky Blue
Early on, my love of color narrowed onto shades of blue. I agree with Catalan artist Joan Miró. He wrote the (French) words, “This is the color of my dreams,” under a splash of forget-me-not blue.
When I arrived in Chile almost four decades ago, I learned to my surprise that pretty much only affluent Santiaguinos could buy genuine imported Crayolas. We “poor provincials” in Chiloé were relegated to cheap wax stubs. Or colored wooden pencils, where celeste reigned as the only blue.
But that sky blue or azure or cerulean has become one of my favorite shades, along with the powder-puff periwinkle of coastal hydrangea and lilac bushes and the multitudinous variations of turquoise or teal (calypso, as we call it in Chile).
“The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts.” –Marcus Aurelius
Crayola’s variations on a blue theme offer only a beginning: blue green, green blue, sea blue, cadet blue (looks like confederate gray to me), and blue violet (think burgundy, magenta, mauve). Beyond the crayon box, I find even more, everything from the palest sea mist and smoke blue to bright robin’s egg to the darkest midnight and bottle blue. With the discovery of indigo dyes, we got all those blue jean shades of denim, too.
Join the Navy
Is any combo crisper and classier than classic navy-and-white? Oddly enough, ultramarine’s history over the centuries has experienced a startling sea-change from reject to royalty. In ancient times, many people groups considered blue the color of the depraved and degenerate. It was also so difficult to obtain that it was only rarely used. Eventually, the Egyptians ground Afghan lapis lazuli stones to make a viable pigment.
To the Greeks, the sea was “wine-dark.” I wonder what color they called the sky? To our mind, few colors seem more military than Prussian blue, but the martial Romans favored red. Perhaps because their enemies, the Pict warriors, daubed themselves with woad blue.
During late medieval times and the Renaissance, blue was associated with purity—through the Church and the Virgin Mary’s robes—and with majesty—through the French royal family’s emblems. With the advent of a cobalt-based blue, costly but coveted, deep blue and purple evolved into the imperial color.
“Life is about using the whole box of crayons.” –Anonymous
And although today, to feel “blue” indicates depression or sorrow, mostly blue is the color of nature, peace, and tranquility. As serene as a sea of glass. My whole family joins me in our mutual love of color, especially blue. I even have a Bluenose daughter—born in Nova Scotia. How much color fun is that?!
So my dented Crayola tin of glue sticks reminds me to think outside my box of crayons. It lets me peel away the old paper, sharpen my focus… and occasionally color outside the lines, on purpose. With beautiful words.